RC Poll: Warner lead Gillespie in Senate race; Clinton keeps edge over possible 2016 Republican rivals; Obama approval down

Virginia Democratic Senator Mark Warner holds a comfortable 25-point lead over Republican Ed Gillespie (47%-22%), according to the Roanoke College Poll. Libertarian Robert Sarvis polled at 5 percent.[1] In the generic Congressional ballot, Democrats hold an insignificant lead over Republicans (38%-36%).  In an early look at possible 2016 Presidential match-ups, Hillary Clinton holds significant and very similar leads over Republicans Chris Christie (44%-34%), Rand Paul (47%-37%), and Paul Ryan (47%-38%). The Roanoke College Poll interviewed 566 registered voters in Virginia between July 14 and July 19 and has a margin of error of +4.2 percent.

These results are very similar to those from the February Roanoke College Poll. The earlier poll included all residents while the current poll interviewed only registered voters. Warner's lead was 30 points in February, while Clinton's margins are also within the polls' margins of error.  

Polling results regarding Medicaid expansion and ethics and Virginia elected officials, including former Gov. McDonnell and former Sen. Puckett, will be released Thursday.  

President Obama and Congress

For the first time, more than half of the respondents (53%) disapprove of President Barack Obama's job performance, and his unfavorable rating has increased to 50 percent. The 10-point margin of unfavorable over favorable and 16-point spread of disapprove and approve are the largest seen in the Roanoke College Poll. Congressional approval remains abysmally low at 7 percent.

As is usual, a plurality of respondents named an economic issue as the most important problem facing the country (20% said economy; 13% unemployment or jobs; and 12% said the budget or taxes). Immigration (8%), foreign policy (7%), and leadership/gridlock (8%) are also areas of concern for Virginians. Health care was named by 7 percent of those polled.  

Only one-third (33%) of those polled think that the President should issue executive orders to reform immigration policy, while a majority (58%) prefer that he works with Congress even if that means no action is taken. Similarly, a plurality (50%) said that any President should try to work with Congress on issues rather than issue Executive Orders. At the same time, a plurality (49%) opposes the plan by some House Republicans to file suit against Obama alleging he has not faithfully executed the law.  

Elected officials' favorable/unfavorable views and direction of the country

Mark Warner's favorable ratings (56%) topped the list of elected officials followed by Senator Tim Kaine (42%), and President Obama (40%). Not surprisingly, Robert Sarvis is largely unknown, with 81 percent not knowing enough about him to have an opinion (although that number was just over 50% prior to the gubernatorial election last year). More surprising is that Ed Gillespie's numbers (75% don't know enough about him to have an opinion) have not moved since January.  

Virginians are more pessimistic regarding the state of the country than at any point since 2012. Only 21 percent think the country is headed in the right direction, while 68 percent said it is on the wrong track.  

Some detail on the Senate election

Warner leads Gillespie and Sarvis among liberals (78%-1%-5%) and moderates (56%-9%-5%) as well as Democrats (82%-0%-3%) and Independents (39%-21%-6%). He trails among conservatives (20%-50%-5%) and Republicans (12%-57%-4%), but his showing in those groups is respectable. Warner's favorable rating is 65 percent among moderates and 55 percent among Independents, and he even does relatively well among conservatives (37%) and Republicans (35%).  

Gillespie is still unfamiliar to both conservatives (19% favorable; 67% don't know enough to have an opinion) and Republicans (18% favorable; 67% don't know) to say nothing of moderates (3%-79%) and Independents (8%-77%). He can take some solace in knowing that Independents report they tend to narrowly lean toward Republicans (38%) over Democrats (36%) in elections. 


"While it is still early, Gillespie needs to begin to introduce himself to Virginia voters. Winning the nomination did not lower the percentage who essentially do not know who he is," said Dr. Harry Wilson, director of the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research. "Warner's favorable rating makes him an extremely formidable opponent. Gillespie needs a lot of money and positive name recognition to even begin to compete. Surely, his numbers will improve, but he needs them to begin to move soon."  

"The decline in Obama's numbers suggest that his influence in the Commonwealth is waning. Hillary Clinton still performs well in potential 2016 match-ups, but two years is an eternity in politics."


Interviewing for The Roanoke College Poll was conducted by The Institute for Policy and Opinion Research at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. between July 14 and July 19, 2014. A total of 556 registered voters in Virginia were interviewed. The sample included both landlines and cellphones and was created so that all cellphone and residential telephone numbers, including unlisted numbers, had a known chance of inclusion.  Cellphones constituted 36 percent of the completed interviews.  

Questions answered by the entire sample of 556 registered voters are subject to a sampling error of plus or minus approximately 4.2 percent at the 95 percent level of confidence. This means that in 95 out of 100 samples like the one used here, the results obtained should be no more than 4.2 percentage points above or below the figure that would be obtained by interviewing all registered voters in Virginia who have a home telephone or a cellphone. The margin of error is larger for any subsets of the 556 total.  

Quotas were used to ensure that different regions of the Commonwealth were proportionately represented. The data were statistically weighted for gender, race and age using the 2013 state exit poll as a benchmark. IPOR does not weight for political party.  

A copy of the topline questionnaire and all frequencies may be found here.

[1] Employing various voter "screens" has virtually no impact on the vote margin. Including registered voters who are at least somewhat likely to vote, the margin for Warner over Gillespie and Sarvis is 47%-23%-5% (N=522). Looking only at likely voters who voted in 2012 and 2103, the totals are 47%-25%-6% (N=355).  

Released: July 23, 2014
Contact Name: Dr. Harry Wilson
Contact Phone: (540) 375-2415 (office), (540) 992-1333 (home), (540) 293-4206 (cell)
Contact Email: wilson@roanoke.edu


About the Institute for Policy and Opinion Research

IPOR conducts monthly surveys in Virginia that benefit the community, state and nation. Regular topics include Virginians' consumer confidence and political candidate polling. 

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